A nearly $1 billion transmission proposal by Central Maine Power to bring hydropower from Quebec to markets in Massachusetts is still in the running after a competing proposal ran into trouble with New Hampshire regulators.
CMP’s project, called New England Clean Energy Connect, entails building a 145-mile transmission corridor through Maine to deliver power to Massachusetts, which is trying to increase its use of renewable power by 2020. CMP’s proposal had been a runner-up in the request for proposals from Massachusetts utilities and regulators. But the initial winner, a project from Eversource called the Northern Pass, failed to gain regulatory approval to build its transmission corridor through New Hampshire.
Eversource is appealing that decision and in the interim the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources has invited CMP to enter into concurrent conditional contract negotiations.
Eversource has until March 27 to conclude its negotiations for the power contract. If the negotiations are not successful, Massachusetts can proceed with CMP, “the next best project that satisfies the policy directives.”
“(CMP) never gave up, even when Northern Pass looked like a winner,” said Steven McGrath, who leads the Governor’s Energy Office in Augusta. “The governor and DEP Commissioner (Paul) Mercer met with representatives from Massachusetts yesterday and convinced them that Maine was behind CMP’s bid. It is a great win for the state.”
The 145-mile line would follow a corridor owned by CMP from Beattie Township, on the Canadian border north of Route 27 and Coburn Gore, through Farmington and Jay to Lewiston, where it would connect to the regional electric grid.
The cost of the transmission corridor would be borne by Massachusetts rate payers. But Maine would benefit from construction jobs to build the high-voltage lines, and possibly from lower regional wholesale electricity costs over the 20-year span of the power contract.
CMP said it intends to continue all aspects of permitting and planning for the project, and that it will immediately begin negotiating long-term contracts with the state’s electric distribution companies to prepare for a submission to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in April 2018.
“Our applications for state and federal permits are moving forward with the strong support of communities and stakeholders in Maine,” Doug Herling, president and chief executive officer of Central Maine Power, said in a statement announcing the negotiations.
Friday’s late-breaking news drew immediate criticism from a regional trade group representing New England power generators who expect the new contract will result in higher-than-market rates for electricity. Dan Dolan, president of New England Power Generators Association, said existing power plant operators have invested more than $13 billion in their plants without any guarantee of cost recovery or profit.
“Once again, Hydro Quebec wins, and consumers lose,” he said in a prepared statement. “Massachusetts is now all-in on Hydro Quebec, going from the fatally flawed Northern Pass to a Maine project that still lacks virtually all its key permits. Hydro Quebec is asking for Massachusetts consumers to guarantee them revenue through an above-market contract for electricity for the next two decades.”
Last summer, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law requiring his state to seek long-term contracts for offshore wind farms and land-based renewable energy. The law calls for 1,600 megawatts of wind energy and 1,200 megawatts from other sources, such as hydro, land-based wind and solar.
A megawatt of generating capacity provides enough energy to serve between 750 and 1,000 homes, CMP says.
Staff Writer Tux Turkel contributed to this report.
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